Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Adolescent Health and the Environment

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Adolescent Health and the Environment

Article excerpt

The effects of toxicants depend on the dose and the time in the life span when exposure occurs. The biology of adolescence is distinctive and provides opportunities for unique actions of toxicants both in terms of disruption of function and disruption of maturation. Maturation of a number of organ systems occurs during this period, including not only the reproductive system but also the respiratory, skeletal, immune, and central nervous systems. Adolescence is a time of increased risk for infectious disease and accidental injury, making the effects of toxicants on the immune and central nervous systems particularly harmful. Differences in blood volume, respiratory parameters, metabolic needs, and capacity all contribute to altered pharmacokinetics. Exposures can also change. Increased food intake associated with rapid adolescent growth alters exposure to food contaminants. Voluntary drug consumption increases, including drinking; smoking; substance abuse; and the use of over-the-counter, prescription, and performance-enhancing drugs. At the same time, adolescents are introduced to toxicants in the workplace. Basic research in the toxicology of adolescence needs to take into account the appropriateness of animal models for this distinctive human developmental stage; risk assessment must take into account pharmacokinetic and lifestyle factors. Screening methodologies that would identify toxic effects unique to adolescence would also be valuable. Key wordy, adolescence, animal, exposure, health effects, human, postnatal, puberty. Environ Health Perspect 108:355-362 (2000). [Online 6 March 2000]

Recently there has been concern in the risk assessment community about the potentially greater susceptibility of children to environmental toxicants (1-3). In these documents, "children" refers to neonates through 18-year-olds. Although progress has been made in understanding and preventing risk at earlier stages of development, less is known about the later stages and, in particular, the final stage of maturation (adolescence). Adolescence is a fascinating period in terms of both its biology and its unique contributions to competent human adult functioning. The toxicology of adolescence needs to take into account both the biology and the function of this developmental period.

Literature on adolescent toxicology does not yet exist. Further, key words related to adolescent development are infrequently provided by the authors of toxicology studies. Thus, this review attempts to provide more general information about adolescence that may be valuable in considering risks to adolescent health due to exposure to environmental toxicants.

"Adolescence" is a term that has no precise biologic definition. It most often applies to humans, and it usually refers to the period from the appearance of secondary sex characteristics to the attainment of adult height (being "grown-up") at roughly 11-19 years of age (4,5). The term "puberty" is usually restricted to sexual maturation and refers to the onset of reproductive function.

Major Health Problems of Adolescence

The mortality rate in adolescence is low as compared to other periods of the life span. In 1996, the major causes of adolescent mortality in the United States, using U.S. health statistics categories, were injury (including accidents, homicide, and suicide), cancer, heart disease, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (6) Major sources of morbidity are infectious disease, particularly sexually transmitted disease, and substance abuse. This same pattern is seen in developing countries as pediatric care improves, marriage is postponed, and a pattern of urban migration for employment is established in young people. Although morbidity and mortality are relatively low, some types of disease show a peak incidence in the adolescent years. The highest incidence of hepatitis (7) and infections of the gastrointestinal tract (8) have been noted in the adolescent age range. …

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